By Michael Bielawski
After getting a warning of a lawsuit concerning a proposed race-based affinity group in the Shelburne Community School spanning K-through-8 students, the school has acquiesced and decided that all students regardless of race can attend the group.
The group Parents Defending Education (PDE) back in January of this year filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Shelburne school. A story about the initial filing appeared on VDC.
According to PDE, the charge was “for discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance in violation of both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
A premise for the affinity group was that only “BIPOC” or “Black, indigenous, and people of color” could attend. The following is an excerpt from a school letter sent out to families in November of 2022.
“We are looking to develop and opt-in racial affinity group for students in grades 3-8 identifying as black, indigenous, and people of color. If you are interested in having your child join, please contact our DEI coach, Lashawn Sells …”
After getting notice of the suit, the school responded. Below is an excerpt from the letter sent to PDE.
“The District also informed OCR [The Office for Civil Rights] that the group would not restrict membership on the basis of race or color, and that it updated the school newsletter to make clear that ‘all are welcome’ to join the group,” stated a letter to Nicole Neily of PDE dated May 1 of this year.
Violations still occurring?
Affinity groups continue to be promoted by other entities such as ThinkVermont.com.
“Making friends and meeting other people of color was the hardest part of living in Vermont,” their webpage states. “That is, until I started noticing outdoor affinity group meet-ups around the state. In January of 2021, a friend invited me to an Inclusive Ski Day at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.”
According to their website, “ThinkVermont is an initiative of the Vermont Department of Economic Development [VDED]” meaning they are derived from a publicly funded entity.
VDC reached out on Monday to the VDED for comment. It has not yet gotten a response.
Vermont School Board Association promoting affinity groups
PDE has made a map and blog updated with the latest headlines from across the nation concerning social issues in the classroom.
There are 11 such headlines for Vermont, and it appears the Vermont School Boards Association [VBSA] is sending emails to school boards asking that they promote affinity groups.
According to one report, emails were sent to the Essex Westford School District’s board members in January of this year. The message stated that they have received grant money for the purpose of starting affinity groups. The VSBA cites the McClure Foundation as providing this money.
According to the McClure Foundation webpage, they are based in Middlebury and they also promote affinity groups for adults.
“Support for equity efforts, including an affinity group for VPA members of color as well as professional learning for members about diverse hiring practices,” their page states.
Another listed incident from the PDE page again involves the VSBA reaching out to boards to promote affinity groups, this time it was to the Mount Mansfield Unified Union School District’s board members.
In an email from the VSBA to the board it further states their intentions to mix social justice initiatives in policy.
It states, “Because it’s essential that board members of color have a voice in identifying and removing barriers and developing solutions to create more equitable student outcomes, VSBA’s first affinity group will bring together school board members who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).”
The author is a reporter for Vermont Daily Chronicle.